EASTER
April 4, 2010
“A Revolutionary Announcement”
Luke 24: 1-12

24:9-11 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

You might be surprised to know that I am usually quite a nervous Nellie when Sunday is approaching and the final touches must be placed, or removed, from my sermon manuscript. I am not particularly worried about ‘entertainment’ value; I am nearly always overwhelmed by the prospect that I will not communicate what God wants me to say, here, in this particular place, at this particular time. You would think that preaching on Easter would be easy, but expectations run high, and so then does anxiety.
It is somewhat reassuring to realize that the first Christian sermon ever preached did not register high on the Richter scale. When the women came back from the cemetery on Easter morning, they brought with them word of an empty tomb and astonishing news: “He is not here but has risen!” All Christian preaching begins here, and all Christian sermons are reverberations of this Easter news, first announced by the women to the apostles. The response? The translations differ; you can take your pick. The words seemed to them like “an idle tale,” “empty talk,” “a silly story,” “a foolish yarn,” “utter nonsense,” “sheer humbug.”
Why? The women have come with a revolutionary announcement, “He is risen!” so why did the apostles dismiss the first news of Easter with a wave of the hand? Some have suggested that this initial Easter proclamation was poorly received because the messengers were women. “From women let not evidence be accepted,” reads the Mishna, “because of the levity and temerity of their sex.”
The women confirm what Jesus had already told the disciples. For the sake of sermon development, let’s acknowledge that the author Luke is referring to the men in Jesus’ entourage as Disciples. They are men.

Less  than half of you in the congregation this morning will find this information helpful in understanding the turn of events at the upper room. See, these most famous not-considered-disciples, these women; have returned to the men with some startling news. The body of Jesus is gone. Moreover, they have received inside information as to where Jesus has gone: he is risen. The men reply, “what?” They mumble amongst themselves, “ok, these women are hysterical.” They probably thought that the women were ‘hysterical’ in the ancient sense of the term, that they knew that women were prone to such bouts of excessive fear or emotion due to an imbalance of hormones. The men, dismissed their claim initially, somehow forgetting the very promises of Jesus himself.
The rest  of you already know that the dismissal of the story has nothing to do with glandular conditions or gender. The women knew perfectly well what had happened to them. They explained with great simplicity their experience. They “remembered his words,” came to an immediate and correct conclusion, and went and told the eleven. I know this report sounds crazy, but we were told in advance that this would happen. No, the disciples cautiousness cannot be solely based on some gender bias.

If not some dismissal of the messenger and not the message, per se, why don’t they hear it? Perhaps the news was too overwhelming to believe. After all, the story begins with something everyone knows is true. Jesus is dead. Despite argument in the early church to the contrary, those folks who were hanging around Jerusalem know he was really dead. Heck, even one of the men found his way to the foot of the cross with the women. They saw everything, they made their way from the upper room on Thursday to the cross on Friday, hiding out all day Saturday. They know the harsh reality: Jesus is dead. They had hoped it wouldn’t end this way. Last week there were other options offered; there was even a sword used on a slaves ear.
The women go to the tomb because they know he is dead. All they want to do is give the guy a decent burial, that’s the least they can do for someone who gave them so much hope in their life. So gather together the spices and such and trudge off to the cemetery. But they receive a word that runs counter to what they know is true: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
What the women have at this point is a message, a word. They do not yet have the resurrected Jesus. Still, they put two and two together and dash off to tell the disciples. But for the disciples, logic rules over faith. When two realities clash it is tempting to believe what we already know: no one rises from the dead. So the disciples do what any modern, sensible, thinking person would do; they consider this an ‘idle tale.’
Even though Jesus repeatedly tried to get this through their heads, and in that moment I suppose the disciples were all nodding their heads in approval, conventional wisdom rules at the moment. The story is too good to be true.
I suspect that there is a deeper reason for writing off the women’s proclamation. Like the Emmaus Road travelers in the story that follows next week, the disciples are not merely fearful, or in the throes of grief, they are “slow of heart to believe. They are not just unable to believe the women and the news of Easter; they are resistant.
Why would they be resistant? Come on, we know why they might resist this! You’ve met people like this!
We all know people who cannot believe any truth outside themselves. Maybe they are unwilling to hear God speaking from strange quarters. They have their little truths born out of their own experience, maybe from what they have been taught to know and believe, so when a word comes to them that is outside of the range of their neat little ideologies, they resist!
For us to embrace the idea that Jesus is not just a long dead prophet, but a living presence in our world has its consequences. For one thing it means our life matters, not our death. It means that who we are as people, how we relate to God’s creation and the “least of these, my brothers and sisters,” matters. It means that this strange countercultural idea of the Kingdom of God is not just a utopian concept that might be nice one day. It means that we cannot put off release of the captives, sight to the blind, until that day when the Lord comes. Resistance to this message means you can tolerate all kinds of inequalities and injustice ‘until the Lord comes.’ You can say that ‘when the Lord comes,’ ain’t gonna be no cryin, no tears, yeah ‘when the Lord comes.’
Resistance, to hedge our bets, will allow us to be quite cavalier with much of the Christian life, to say nothing about worship or stewardship. One person I know calls this ‘functional atheism,’ meaning that you may praise this Easter morning with your lips, but you live an ‘empty tomb’ life, not a resurrection life. A resurrection life is about hope, not a pie-in-the-sky hope, but the kind of Hope the Apostle Paul writes about, the kind of hope that causes riots and sends the pastor to jail.
Another writer speaks about hope: it is a story of hope in the face of great tragedy, it is a resurrection story of sorts, written by Alice Walker. The story is called The Color Purple. The main character, the narrator who tells us her story through her letters addressed to God, is Celie, a poor black woman who has been abused all her life. But she has somebody in her life who loves her, her sister Nettie, who gets chased away by Celie’s violent husband, Albert. Albert doesn’t let Celie ever see the mail, so Celie never hears from Nettie and starts to believe that her sister is dead. But Nettie isn’t dead. She has gone to Africa as a missionary and writes to Celie many letters over the years; she never gets a reply, but she keeps writing letters to Celie anyway. Then, one day, Celie finds the packet of letters from Nettie that Albert has stashed away under the floorboards. “Dear Celie,” Nettie writes, “I know you think I am dead. But I am not. I been writing to you, too, over the years, but Albert said you’d never hear from me again and since I never heard from you all this time, I guess he was right. There is so much to tell you that I don’t know, hardly, where to begin….but if this do get through, one thing I want you to know, I love you, and I am not dead.”

Listen, Easter is not simply a day of celebration: It is, as well, a day of decision. It is a day like most days around here where we break out old love letters, words of faith and hope and love. What is really to be decided is whether or not we ourselves will rise from the deadening grip of this world’s burnt-out insistence on death being the final word, and listen, really listen to one who calls out to each of us, and to gradually live into this radical announcement.

Amen.

Advertisements